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Marco Antonio Ruiz quits as Mexican U17 National team coach

Ruiz coached the U17 team to the 2019 World Cup final, earning a lot of respect on the way.

Previews - FIFA U-17 World Cup Brazil 2019 Photo by Buda Mendes - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images

The Mexican football federation has announced that Marco Antonio “Chima” Ruiz has stepped down as coach of the U17 Mexican National team. With this, Ruiz leaves the youth system of the Mexican National teams which he had been part of for eight years. He was first an assistant Coach of the U20 team first under Juan Carlos Chavez and then with Sergio Almaguer. Later, he became head coach of the team and took them to the 2017 U20 World Cup. He then moved on to the U23 team before Jaime Lozano ended up with the U17 team in 2019, which he took to the final. No word yet on who will replace him, as he had started the process for the 2020 U17 World Cup although like all the international football, it has been put on pause because of the COVID-19 emergency.

Marco Antonio Ruiz had a successful career as a player in Liga MX. Ruiz had a notable career at various clubs like Tigres, Pachuca, and especially Chivas. Ruiz made the national team in 2001 but unfortunately for him it was under Enrique Meza and during a disastrous run that has Meza as possibly the worst coach of the NT. After retirement, Ruiz was part of a group of players that chose the Mexico NT youth system to establish themselves as coach. Ruiz started under the tenure of another ex-player, Juan Carlos Chavez, as assistant to the U20 team in 2011. That team finished in third place in the 2011 U20 World Cup and the success allowed Chavez to move on to Atlas. Another ex-player, Sergio Almaguer took over for him, and he coached the U20 team in the 2013 and 2015 U20 World Cup with Ruiz as an assistant. After Almaguer left (after a terrible 2015 performance), Ruiz took over the U20 team as coach. Ruiz’ first job as a coach was qualifying the team to the 2017 U20 World Cup in Costa Rica. Mexico qualified, but a loss to the United States meant they didn’t reach the U20 CONCACAF final, ending a three straight Champions streak. Still, Mexico got their ticket and went to the U20 World Cup where they reached the Quarterfinals before losing to eventual champions England. It was a missed World Cup though. Mexico barely won with a last minute goal against Vanuatu, expected to be the worst team in the World Cup in their first game. Later they tied Germany in a bad performance from both sides in game that ended scoreless. They closed the group stages with a 1-0 loss to Venezuela in which they were totally dominated. In the Round of 16 they weren’t the favorites against Senegal, but benefit from bad finishing by Senegal as well as a red card to a Senegal player. Mexico won with a late goal and booked a ticket to the quarterfinals where they played their best game but lost. It was a very uneven performance overall but the result was great.

After the U20 World Cup, Ruiz temporarily took over as coach for the U23 team that would take part of the 2018 Toulon Tournament. There like the U20 team, Mexico had great results finishing in second place. But also like the U20 World Cup, the results seemed better than the performances. While Mexico had one of the most talented teams of the tournaments, Ruiz constantly played the same lineup even when there was little time between games. Maybe because of this Mexico got to the final against England with a couple of key injuries, and they lost the final to a team they had been superior to when they met in the group stage (although the game finished 0-0). Ruiz’s time as coach of the U23 team ended, and he moved on to the U17 team where he qualified them to the 2019 U17 World Cup by winning the 2019 U17 CONCACAF Championship.

Mexico went to the 2019 U17 World Cup with the shadow of the U20 team, who had done a terrible job in the 2019 U20 World Cup as they lost all their games, looming over them. With a team that wasn’t expected to be that talented, Ruiz had his job cut out for and the first two games proved to meet those low expectations. Mexico opened with a 0-0 tie against Paraguay in an even match but one which they went down to 10 men after Eugenio Pizzuto got red carded. They then lost 2-1 against Italy with the winning goal scored in injury time. Luckily for Mexico they closed out against the worst team in the World Cup, Solomon Islands and trounced them 8-0. After that Ruiz and the team had a turnaround. Mexico went in as heavy underdogs in their Round of 16 match but defeated them 2-0 with a great performance. They then defeated South Korea (1-0) in the quarterfinal with another great coached game. Mexico once again was a heavy underdog in the semifinals against The Netherlands, and they were dominated at times but held on in another great coached game. The game went to penalty kicks after a 1-1 tie and won the shootout 4-3, getting to their fourth U17 World Cup finals. Unfortunately for them they faced the host and although they took the lead, eventually they fell 2-1 against the Brazilians. Still it was a great tournament for Mexico, who although it is a powerhouse in this category, they weren’t expected to do so this time. It was also redemption for Ruiz, who had a lot of doubts but did an excellent job and for the first time the perfornances justified the great result.

“Chima” Ruiz stepping down is surprising for many. He had finally earned the respect his results had given him. Yet it might be the best decision. As a U17 Coach it was difficult for him to achieve the results or better the results for 2019, so the only way for him was down. The prior U17 coach, Mario Arteaga, went from a 2015 semifinalist team in the World Cup to a 2017 U17 World Cup without a win with a more talented team. He also could have looked to be typecasted as a youth coach and if there was a way to snap out of that, it would be leaving at the best moment, which might be this one. Also the pause of international football for the COVID-19 emergency might not give him time to do another tenure with the U17 team. Still Ruiz did a great job and more importantly for him, redeemed himself since this wasn’t the thinking of most fans prior to the U17 World Cup. Now he can move forward with improved respect from fans and the press.